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MUNICIPAL corporations may be divided into two classes. In the first class may be included all those chartered communities, that have a simple form of organization, limited local powers, and a small population, although population of itself is an untrustworthy guide for their classification. Such communities bear different names in different parts of the country. In Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania they are called boroughs. In the Southern States they are generally called towns, while in the West they are usually known as villages. In Indiana, Iowa and Colorado they are called towns.
The organization and powers of a village (or town, or borough) do not differ widely in the different States. Most of the officers are elected by the voters of the village. The governing body consists of a president, or mayor, or chief burgess, and a body of three or more trustees or burgesses or commissioners. In addition to these there is always a clerk, and frequently a treasurer, tax collector, a constable, a justice of the peace and a board of street commissioners. The village government usually renders the following services :
(1) It keeps the peace.
(2) It holds a court for the trial of minor civil and criminal cases.
(3) It keeps the streets in order and provides good sidewalks.
(4) It lights the streets.
(8) It purchases apparatus for the extinguishing of fires.
The second class of municipalities is the cities. A city is almost always an enlarged town or village, and in outward appearance it is sometimes difficult to distinguish a small city from a large town, although between the governments of the two there is a sharp difference. The government of the city is more complex than that of town, its powers are greater, its officers are more numerous, and its local independence is more clearly defined. At what point in its growth a town or village shall cast off its simple organization and assume the dignity of cityhood depends upon State law. In many States a place must have ten thousand or more inhabitants before it is entitled to the privileges of a city, while in other States we find cities with less than three thousand inhabitants.
There are two well defined types of city government in the United States, the council system and the commission system.
The Council System. In most American cities the municipal power is divided and given to a city council
or board of aldermen-and a mayor, the council exercising the legislative power, and the mayor exercising the executive power. This organization is usually known as the council system.
The organization of the city council varies with the temper of State legislatures and with the theories of municipal reformers. It is always a representative body and its members are usually elected from municipal divisions known as wards. In a very few cities the council consists of two branches; in others it consists of a single body. The term of office of councilman-or alderman-is times as short as one year but it is never longer than four years. The council as the legislature of the city regulates the almost innumerable activities of the city government. A perusal of its proceedings as reported in the daily newspapers will show how closely its actions are connected with the daily life of the urban resident. Its laws, called ordinances, affect profoundly the health, safety, peace, comfort, prosperity, intelligence and morality of the city.
In cities where the council system prevails the executive power is vested in a mayor who is elected by the voters for a term varying from one to four years. The powers and duties of the mayor within the city are comparable to those of the governor within the State. The chief duty of the mayor is to carry into effect the laws affecting the municipality. Associated with the mayor in the executive branch of a large city, there are numerous heads of departments and boards. Some of these are elected by the people, others are appointed by the mayor; in a few States some of them (for example, the police and health commissioners) are appointed by the governor, or by the State legislature. Serving under these chiefs and boards are assistants and employees, the number of whom increases with the size of the city, and sometimes consists of many thousands. A well organized city will usually have such departments and officers and boards as are indicated by the following outline:
(1) Department of Finance: comptroller, board of estimates, collector of taxes.
(2) Department of Law: city solicitor, or attorney.
(3) Department of Public Safety: board of fire commissioners, commissioner of health, inspector of buildings, commissioner of streets.
(4) Department of Public Improvement: city engineer, water board, inspector of boilers.
(5) Department of Parks and Squares: board of park commissioners.
(6) Department of Education: board of school commissioners, superintendent of schools.
(7) Department of Charities and Correction : trustees of the poor, supervisors of city charities.
(8) Department of Taxes and Assessment: court of taxes and assessment.
(9) Board of Police Commissioners.
(10) Miscellaneous: city librarian, superintendent of lamps and lighting, surveyor, constables, superintendent of public buildings, public printer.
In every large city there is a system of courts extending from the police or magistrate court up to the higher courts, but the judges of these courts, although they may be elected by the people of the city, are not strictly officers of the municipal government. Justice is administered in the name of the State, and the judi. cial department of a city is merely a portion of the State judiciary acting within the borders of the city. Appeals from courts of the city are taken to the supreme court of the State.
The Commission System. In many of our cities the municipal power both legislative and executive is vested in a single body, usually known as a commission, although this body is sometimes called the city council. This system of municipal organization originated in Galveston after the great inundation of 1900. The success of Galveston with the commission system led to its adoption in other cities. At the present time more than 400 cities are governed by the commission plan. Under the commission system the governing body usually consists of five commissioners (or councilmen) elected by the voters of the city at large, there being no ward lines recognized in the selection or in the election of this commission. Party lines as well as ward lines are disregarded in the election of the commission, for candidates are nominated without the aid of party machinery and the election is conducted without regard to partisan results. One member of the commission is the mayor who presides at the meetings of the commission (council) but who has no power to veto any measure. The commission passes the ordinances for the government and administration of the city and also carries the ordinances